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Tarnished Gems

Japan and Brazil are still waiting for the casino boom

Tarnished Gems

The interest of more than a dozen Japanese cities was whittled down to just two: Nagasaki and Osaka (abv.). Both must receive federal approval to finalize the acceptance of the projects for construction to get under way.

For several years now, either Japan or Brazil or both have made the “10 Trends” feature in GGB magazine. With massive populations and needs for tax revenue, employment and tourism, both countries are “no-brainers” when it comes to the introduction of casinos and/or integrated resorts. But neither country has fully pulled the trigger in such a manner that they’d gain the complete benefits of a land-based gaming industry.

After long and bitter negotiations, with the support of the late prime minister Shinzo Abe—but opposed by a large majority of Japanese citizens—Japan actually legalized casino gaming as part of an integrated resort. But then the opposition kicked in. Because local referendums were necessary to approve integrated resorts in any city, the interest of more than a dozen Japanese cities was whittled down to just two: Nagasaki and Osaka.

Since the first round of IRs in Japan was supposed to be three licenses, it’s not a huge shock to see only two cities as the finalists. But there’s still a long way to go before the doors open on either resort.

In Nagasaki, the IR will be located in the town of Sasebo at the site of the Dutch theme park Huis Ten Bosch. The theme park opened in 1992 and has struggled with attendance its entire existence, actually declaring bankruptcy in 2003. Now, on the eve of the IR approval, it may be sold. Nonetheless, the winning bid came from operator Casinos Austria, which plans a $3.2 billion complex with four hotels, extensive MICE space, and a casino featuring 3,000 slots and at least 400 table games.

In Osaka, MGM Resorts has partnered with the Japanese company Orix for an IR on Yumeshima Island, a man-made structure in the bay. The $13.3 billion project is a mixed-use development, of which part will be the MGM Osaka IR.

Public opposition to the project has been strong, but Osaka officials were forceful in keeping a second plebiscite on the project from happening. But concerns about flooding and infrastructure issues continue to dog the project.

Both Nagasaki and Osaka must receive federal approval to finalize the acceptance of the projects for construction to get under way. It’s still uncertain how that approval process will work and whether opponents will be given a platform to present their cases against the projects. At the very earliest, opening of the IRs is slated for 2029, more than a decade after the idea was first floated.

In Brazil, it’s even more convoluted and tied up in politics.

Earlier this year, the country’s Chamber of Deputies narrowly approved a gaming bill that included multiple casinos in a variety of locations. The measure would also approve various forms of gaming, including a minimum of 43 casinos, 292 jogo do bicho sale points and 6,012 bingo and video-bingo halls, as well as an unknown number of racetracks and stadiums.

The number of casinos is based on population, whether in a tourist enclave or on a boat. As calculated, São Paulo will be the state that may have the largest number with three, followed by Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas and Pará, with two each within tourist areas. Riverboat casino numbers are based on the length of the river, with a maximum of 10. That number could grow because in locations classified as natural or heritage tourist sites, a casino will be allowed regardless of the population density of the state, with a tourist casino no more than 100 kilometers from a casino in a leisure complex.

But there was no vote in the Senate because of the presidential election that occurred in October. President Jair Bolsonaro was defeated, and with him his promise to veto any legislation that legalizes gaming.

The new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has promised to let such a bill stand—if passed.

But “Lula” is actually in his third non-consecutive term as president, and his previous administrations have not been friendly to gaming. In 2004 he closed the country’s bingo parlors. He also consolidated lotteries as the federal monopoly Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF). However, last year the Supreme Court ended the monopoly, opening the way for individual states to offer their own products.

Supporters of legalization want to bring it to a vote at the end of the National Congress session and before new House and Senate winners take their seats. Bolsonaro had previously indicated he would, before leaving office, allow the Ministry of Justice to regulate sports betting, which had been under the Ministry of the Economy. This rivalry between the two ministries was seen as a roadblock to regulation this year.

Bolsonaro’s defeat also calls into doubt whether these regulations will be implemented by the deadline. In that event, it would fall to the new administration to implement regulations.

Sports betting, however, had already been legalized in Brazil, and operators are waiting for the regulations to be promulgated.

So like Japan, it’s hurry up and wait in Brazil, as well.

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